Exercise is not just about losing weight, and it’s not just about looking good. For women, exercise is a key ingredient of strong bones, flexible joints, resilient muscles, improved mood, stress relief and reduced risk of many major diseases.
Both cardiovascular exercise, which helps maintain a healthy heart and vascular system, and strength training to develop balance, bone density, flexibility and strong muscles are important for women as they age.
Men and women alike benefit from regular exercise, but women may differ in the type of program that best suits their needs. Also, women sometimes exhibit a different approach to exercise. “One difference we see between women and men is that women tend to overtrain more than men, training seven days week for weeks at a time with no recovery or active rest days built in,” says Dale Huff, owner of Nutriformance. “The other substantial difference between our male and female clients is that most of our females do not understand the importance of post-exercise recovery nutrition. Most skip it, believing the caloric expenditure from their workout is more important than refueling for the next workout.”
In fact, Huff notes that exercise and diet are both highly individualized lifestyle components, and obtaining professional guidance is important. That begins with one’s primary-care physician. “It’s always important to meet with your personal physician at least annually, and definitely before initiating a conditioning program of any type,” he says. “Your doctor will be all for it but will make sure you are safe to proceed.”
In general, a good place to begin is with a balanced routine that involves a variety of exercises for all major muscle groups, as well as regular cardio workouts. “We generally recommend a target amount of exercise: 30 minutes a day, most days of the week, which averages as about 150 minutes per week of moderate activity,” says Dr. Clarissa Allen, a family physician with Westglen Family Physicians and on staff at St. Luke's Hospital.
And there’s no need to jump right into iron-man training. “Even modest increases in exercise are associated with health benefits, so keep in mind, every little bit helps,” Allen adds. “I try to encourage people to do whatever they enjoy, as they’re more likely to continue good exercise practices. Find something you like and stick with it.”
However, that doesn’t mean that what worked for you at age 20 will necessarily still work at age 40. “As we age, our exercise program will change,” says Mike Jaudes, owner and president of The Fitness Edge. “You need to adjust. You may need to lighten the load you lift, for example. It’s important to progress appropriately so you don’t have a setback.”
Sometimes a new type of exercise is just the ticket to challenge ourselves in new ways, maintain a healthy body, and add some spice to the daily routine. For instance, water aerobics, kickboxing or pilates may be fun and effective new workouts.
Melissa Stolze, owner of the Barre3 St. Louis studio, offers one example of a nontraditional workout. “Dynamic movements lift the heart rate and rev the metabolism, which, in turn, burns more calories throughout the day and leads to a happy, healthy heart. Isometric holds and micro-movement variations fluidly work large and small muscles, developing long, lean muscles,” she says. “Barre3 is a functional strength system, lifting and shaping the entire body, with postural benefits that help clients literally and metaphorically stand taller.”
Whatever your exercise routine consists of, the important thing is to get up and do something. “The positive effects are unbelievable,” Jaudes says. “I’ve watched people transform themselves, increase their self-confidence and become more successful at other things in their life. And the side effect? Just a little sweat.”